Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Do I Need a Will?

I'm thirty-two, in decent shape, and I eat well - most of the time. I'm not planning on dying any time soon, and, at Southern Justice, we prefer not to dwell on depressing topics. But, I recognize, as do almost all of us, that my days are numbered. Despite the melancholy nature of the subject, planning for the future is vital. All of us need to do it. Clients and friends often ask about wills for their parents or grandparents and are surprised when I inquire about their own will. The reaction usually goes like this - "I'm only [twenty-something]. I need a will?!"

The answer is "It depends." It depends on what you have, what you own, and what you want to do with it. If you don't own anything, then a will should not be a priority for you. But, if you own a home, a car, have children, large amounts of savings, then it's a good idea - if not a moral imperative - to see an estate planning attorney and craft an individualized will. However, even if you depart this world will-less, state intestacy laws will distribute your property and estate according to a hierarchical order of family and relatives (but note - rarely does intestacy result in the type of distribution most of us want).

Having qualified the need for a will, there are two documents EVERYONE should have: an Advance Directive and a Durable Power of Attorney. An Advance Directive (aka, Living Will) allows you to dictate the health care you will receive should you become terminally ill, terminally injured, or unconscious and be unable to to speak or communicate (e.g., a coma). Remember Terry Schiavo and the fight between her husband and her parents? Thankfully we can avoid such a situation. Most states allow you, via the Living Will, to give explicit instructions and/or appoint someone to make those decisions for your once you become incapacitated. I, for one, don't want to be kept on life-support and a feeding tube for five, ten, twenty years. An Advance Directive allows me to free my family and loved ones from the burden of having to make the difficult decision of whether to "pull the plug" - and from having to fight in court for the right to do so. Every adult (nineteen or older in Alabama), regardless of health, should have one.

A Durable Power of Attorney gives another person or persons the power to act on your behalf. The power given can be limited or broad and general. You can dictate that the power of attorney does not arise until a specified event occurs (e.g., you become incapacitated). There are a ton of good reasons to do this: convenience, greater personal control, avoiding pricey guardianships, the list goes on. In the context of estate planning, a Durable Power of Attorney is usually general and empowers the Agent to do anything you would normally be able to do for yourself - sell or buy property, manage bank accounts, file and pay taxes, make health care decisions, and so on. It is an invaluable tool because of the time and money it saves. I have one because, as an attorney, I understand how difficult it would be for my family, if something were to happen to me, to gain control of and administer my property and assets. Time is of the essence in such situations; I want a quick and easy process.

Conclusion - Wills? Sometimes. Advance Directive? NOW. Durable Power of Attorney? ASAP. And, luckily, an Advance Directive and Power of Attorney are generally quick and inexpensive - so, no excuses. Any questions or comments, feel free to post or contact us. My best.

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